Vitunac’s attorney requests data to build potential age discrimination case

VERO BEACH — In his latest strategy to represent Vero City Attorney Charles Vitunac, attorney Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle is now seeking to pull public records that might indicate the City of Vero Beach has a pattern of discriminating against older employees.

Vocelle Friday requested records of all terminations of staffers age 55 or older over the past 10 years and records of age discrimination cases or complaints filed against the city. Vitunac, 63, is awaiting a public hearing on his own termination, twice voted upon by the Vero Beach City Council.

On Feb. 1, the council voted 3-2 with Mayor Jay Kramer and Councilman Craig Fletcher dissenting, to move forward with firing Vitunac.

Vitunac was placed on paid suspension and is still being paid his salary of approximately $68 per hour and his benefits.

On Feb. 15, at the advice of attorney Helen Scott, the City Council voted again, 5-0 that time, to fire Vitunac. The vote was done over again to cure claims Vitunac made that the first resolution was “fatally flawed.”

Shortly after the Feb. 1 vote, Vocelle sent the city a demand letter attempting to broker a settlement of eight months’ pay or approximately $88,000 for Vitunac in exchange for his resignation.

On Thursday, Vocelle notified City Hall that Vitunac would exercise his right to a public hearing, as provided for in the city charter.

Vocelle also requested telephone and email records from Vice Mayor Pilar Turner, Councilwoman Tracy Carroll and Councilman Brian Heady in an effort to discern whether or not council members had potentially violated the Florida Sunshine Law prohibiting them to talk to each other about an issue that would come before them for a vote.

On Friday, City Clerk Tammy Vock said she was already working on producing the records and that the records available at City Hall would be ready in a day or so.

She said the city telephone system only tracks long-distance calls and that Tracy Carroll is the only member of the City Council involved in the records request who has a city-issued cell phone. Vock said she would ask the City Council members if they had any pertinent calls on a personal phone.

Heady, who was included in the records request but not in the question and answer exchange of which Vocelle is leery, said that he had not contacted either Carroll or Turner about anything.

“I don’t do Sunshine violations, I’m very careful about talking to any of them,” Heady said.

Vitunac has served as a charter officer of the City of Vero Beach for the past 11 years. The charter states that charter officers work at the pleasure of the Vero Beach City Council. Vitunac has no employment contract that would grant him pay or benefits beyond his termination date.

After involuntary separation from the city, Vitunac would collect about $75,000 per year in pension payments, plus $57,000 in banked sick and vacation time. If allowed to resign, Vitunac would be entitled to more than $92,000 in banked sick and vacation time, plus any severance he was able to negotiate with the City Council.

The City Council was not required to show cause to remove Vitunac from employment.

Presumably, Vitunac would have firsthand knowledge of any age discrimination complaints or suits filed against the City of Vero Beach, whether he handled them personally or farmed them out to contract attorneys who specialize in labor and discrimination law.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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